Archive for the “Improv” Category
[Ed. -- After many years in NYC but fresh to my own stomping ground of Houston, Chris Becker has offered to write some semi-regular musings on the new-music scene down thisaway. His own introduction:
In its March 2010 Global Ear column, The Wire magazine described Houston as “the weirdest and wildest of (Texas) cities” with a “rich tradition of unofficial and DIY art.” Speaking as a recent transplant from New York City (where I lived for twelve years), I can confirm that our British friends were on point with their analysis of H-Town. I am in my third month as a native, and only just beginning to take in the breadth and variety of Houston’s cultural scene– especially its music. Although I’m also enjoying the city’s classical music (Houston Grand Opera, Mercury Baroque) each dispatch I bring to you from Houston will focus on contemporary composition, improvised idioms, and works that integrate theatre, the visual arts, and/or dance. Inevitably, my love for rock, folk, blues, country, zydeco, and all out noise (Red Krayola, anyone?) will creep into future writing, the overall goal being to expand peoples’ perception (including my own) of where one can find innovative forward-thinking music.]
2009-2010 marks the sixth year that Houston’s contemporary ensemble and presenting organization Musiqa has presented its “loft” concert series at the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston. Each concert program is produced in conjunction with and inspired by a different exhibition. In May, CAMH debuted the show Hand + Made featuring works that blur the lines between craft (crochet, pottery, glass blowing) and performance. As a composer who has collaborated with clay and crochet artists (often in combination with dancers and improvising musicians), I dug the curatorial concept immediately and looked forward to hearing what pieces the composer founded and led Musiqa would choose for Hand + Made’s corresponding May 20th concert.
The concert took place at CAMH with the musicians surrounded by the artwork on display – including several elaborately designed and decorated “sound suits” by artist Nick Cave (a former dancer with Alvin Ailey’s troupe, not the singer with the Bad Seeds). I was happy to see people of all ages and filled CAMH’s space for this concert, using up all of the available benches and much of the floor space.
The program – performed by three percussionists (Craig Hauschildt, Alec Warren, and Blake Wilkins) included Clapping Music by Steve Reich, Panneaux en acier by Marcus Maroney (a beautiful and relatively new work for percussion soloist on various metals), Vinko Globokar’s primal piece of solo performance art Corporal (bravely and convincingly realized by a half naked Craig Hauschildt who was required to – among other actions – slap and strike parts of his body), and Ohko for three djembes by Iannis Xenakis. The performances were incredible, blurring the lines between what was composed, what was improvised, and where “music” as one might define it begins and ends. Musiqua’s program illuminated the creative interzone that is “in-between categories” where many of Hand + Made’s artists (and many Houstonians) reside.
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Artist and performer Yet Torres is responsible for the handmade design and packaging of the new double CD Screwed Anthologies: improvised music under the influence of DJ Screw featuring David Dove (trombone) and Lucas Gorham (guitar, lap steel). David and Lucas celebrated this CD release Sunday May 30th at Resonant Interval – a concert series (“Sideways Shows For A Straight Laced City”) that features Houston’s experimental, electronic and improvising artists. David is the director of Nameless Sound, a presenting organization that, in addition to bringing experimental musicians from around the world to Houston, offers music instruction to young people in the public schools, community centers, and homeless shelters. Screwed Anthologies is a “disjointed exhibition” initially conceived at Labotanica (an experimental laboratory for art and performance located in the historic Third Ward) featuring music and mixed media performances inspired by the “screwed and chopped” music of the formidable DJ Screw. The venue for the Resonant Interval performance was an empty storefront located a few doors away from a cool wine and beer bar with its own show on its walls of lovely and haunting photographs of New Orleans. Once again, the space was filled with people ready to take in the music.
Throughout David and Lucas’ set, excerpts of DJ Screw’s music were cued and superimposed over the sometimes (but not always) heavily processed sound of David’s trombone and Lucas’ lap steel and guitar. “Under the influence…” is the tag to this project, but legacy or homage did not seem to drive the actual improvising in performance (although both David and Lucas created sounds that harkened to the slow tempos, shifted pitches and soulful timbres of DJ Screw’s mixes). The disparate qualities of each sound (including the stray transmissions of DJ Screw) hung in the air like parts of a mobile (or a collection of Duchamp ready-mades) creating an experience where one seemed to hear each component to the music as an individual entity sitting in its own time and space, even as the music unfolded in the context of a duo (trio?) improvisation. The influence of Houston-born Pauline Oliveros was apparent, along with the sounds of Houston’s birds, traffic, and weather. I am excited to hear (via bootlegging or perhaps another CD-R or two…) how this music develops on the road. David and Lucas are currently touring Screwed Anthologies throughout the South and East Coast. You can get the tour dates here.
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The beginning of June has taken on a certain meaning to the San Francisco Bay Area new music community, and every single one of us would erase that meaning if we could. It’s once again time for the Matthew Sperry Memorial Festival, held every year around this time in memory of one of our own, lost to us in a tragic accident on June 5, 2003.
The eighth annual festival happens this week, and the theme is “Homegrown”, since organizers are taking a break from the out-of-town headliners who’ve graced the event each year up till now.
First up, on Thursday evening June 3rd, dozens of improvisers will convene in a Tag Team Trio Shift at the Luggage Store Gallery. Refereed by Matthew’s close friend John Shiurba, the performers will play continuously, but only three at a time. The Luggage Store Gallery is located at 1007 Market Street near 6th Street in San Francisco, and donations will be accepted at the door — from $6.00 all the way up to any amount the donor desires.
On Saturday, June 5th, the somber date we all remember, the mood shifts to contemporary classicism, and the festival shifts to the other side of the bay. Two precious handwritten scores from Matthew’s notebook — “Wadadaism” (1991) and “Veins” (1995) — will share the program with works by Anthony Braxton, Cornelius Cardew, and James Tenney, all of whom inspired and influenced Matthew. The Bay Area’s renowned sfSound ensemble holds the reins of this concert at 21 Grand, located at 416 25th Street in Oakland. The same $6.00-to-infinity sliding donation scale applies.
All proceeds from the festival benefit the Matthew Sperry Memorial Fund, which is the new music community’s way of caring for Matthew’s surviving family in his absence.
A number of Sequenza 21 contributors and readers also populate the site ImprovFriday. It’s a web community that encourages sharing of improvisations, compositions with an element of improv, and recent compositional sketches at a series of web events run on … you guessed it, Fridays.
While this all sounds very free form, the group has specific guidelines for participation, found here. Employing these operating principles are a wide ranging group of spontaneous creators: diverse in style, outspoken yet constructive in critiquing each others’ work, but unified in ambitious music-making.
The community’s first compilation recording, ImprovFriday Vol. 1, is now available from online vendors Amazon and iTunes.
For Sequenza 21 readers, the list of participants contains several of our ‘usual suspects:’ Steve Layton, David Toub, J.C. Combs, Dennis Bathory-Kitsz, and Bruce Hamilton. Included below are a few sound snippets for your preview.
Steve Layton: Spaceship
David Toub: Virtual Music 2
J.C. Combs: The Giant Eye of the Fifth Dimension
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The San Francisco Electronic Music Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary this week. On the final festival night, Saturday, September 19th, the program will include a special all-electronic performance of the opera I, Norton, by San Francisco Bay Area composer Gino Robair.
I, Norton is based on the proclamations of Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, who lived during the Gold Rush era in San Francisco. The concert begins at 8:00 p.m. at the Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets.
Gino Robair has created music for dance, theater, gamelan orchestra, radio, and television. His works have been performed throughout North America, Europe, and Japan. He was composer in residence with the California Shakespeare Festival for five years and served as music director for the CBS animated series The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat. His commercial work includes themes for the MTV and Comedy Central cable networks. Robair is also one of the “25 innovative percussionists” included in the book Percussion Profiles (SoundWorld, 2001). He has recorded with Tom Waits, Anthony Braxton, Terry Riley, Lou Harrison, John Butcher, Derek Bailey, Peter Kowald, Otomo Yoshihide, the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, and Eugene Chadbourne, among many others. He is a founding member of the Splatter Trio and the heavy metal band Pink Mountain. In addition, he runs Rastascan Records, a label devoted to creative music.
S21: His Imperial Majesty Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, is an “only in San Francisco” kind of personage. What inspired you to make him into the central character of an opera?
GR: He’s the kind of complex character one needs for an opera. And I like the fact that he’s mythologized somewhat.
Although many people see him as this incoherent, homeless vagrant, I think the reality is that he was bright man who was determined to make a difference in a world that was hostile, confusing, and often out of control. We’re talking about the Old West, here!
Remember, he was a Jewish immigrant from South Africa. Try to imagine the culture shock he experienced arriving in mid-19th-century California during the Gold Rush. It makes total sense to me that he’d conclude that the only way to solve the problems in his new environment was to roll up his shirt sleeves and do the job himself.
Read the rest of this entry »
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I’ve only been living in New York City for a few years, but I already feel like there are times when I just simply take the city for granted. Or worse, I don’t take advantage of all that it has to offer. But I think what makes living here so exciting is the opportunity to accidentally stumble onto incredible events, or to go places expecting one thing and end up (pleasantly) at something totally and completely different.
This is exactly what happened yesterday afternoon as I wandered in to the World Financial Center Winter Garden during the third hour of “I Write the Songs.” All I knew was that the event was a drawing installation created by Suzanne Bocanegra, in collaboration with the Drawing Center, paired with spontaneous music composition featuring the FLUX Quartet. Even though I really had no idea what this description meant or what it would look like when I got there… it still sounded pretty cool.
I’m still so impressed with this brilliant idea; let me try to explain how it worked.
Walking through the Winter Garden, you went to one of several drawing stations, each equipped with loose sheets of printed music and colored pencils. You picked a page of music and colored or drew or wrote whatever came to mind, in any way you wanted. When done, the music was handed to a person on a ladder, who handed it off to be clipped to a high strung clothesline, which transported the pages to the stage.
Once on stage, the music was distributed to a member of the quartet, each of whom “played”/improvised what they saw on the page. The added bonus was that each musician had a TV monitor facing the audience, displaying the current page of music on their stand. Everyone could see what the performers saw at any moment—many people waiting excitedly to see their page played… Brilliant!
The sound for four performers playing this music all at once was not as cacophonous as one might imagine; and some clever “composers” asked quartet members to sit quietly and take a break, or to observe the player to their right. Once performed, the music was returned to the person on the ladder to be sent away on a different clothesline. At the end of the line, volunteers from the Drawing Center collected and hand-bound the music into books.
Suzanne’s installation created a 5-hour constant loop of new pages of drawings/music, traveling from “composer” to clothesline to performer and back to clothesline. I have no idea what Suzanne will do with the bound collections of music, but I’m sure she has thought of something fascinating.
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San Francisco’s Mission District, home of so much that is cool, is a natural neighborhood for the arts. The San Francisco Community Music Center located at 544 Capp Street is the the Bay Area’s oldest community arts organization and San Francisco’s largest provider of low-cost, high quality music education. In 2008, 2,300 students of all ages, ethnicities and income levels enrolled in Music Center programs and over 16,000 people enjoyed musical performances at no or low cost.
Starting this Sunday, the SFCMC will host the eighth annual Outsound New Music Summit, a festival which for all its success and longevity has somehow stayed the Bay Area’s best-kept secret. Sunday night’s “Touch the Gear” expo is free and open to the public, featuring 20 individual artists and ensembles and their homemade, customized, and startling instruments and electronic rigs. All of them will be set up and ready to show you, the audient, how to make music and noise like they do.
Four concert nights follow on the subsequent Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Artist Q & A sessions at 7:15 p.m. each evening set you up for performances starting at 8:00 p.m., starring:
- Alicia Mangan & Spirit, ROVA Saxophone Quartet, and Vinny Golia (solo and with locals in a mixed ensemble) in “Free Improvision/Free Composition”
- Forms of Things Unknown, Peter Kolovos, Conure, Hans Fjellestad, and Thomas Dimuzio in “Industrial Soundscapes”
- Jess Rowland & The Dreamland Puppet Theater, Kathleen Quillian & Gilbert Guererro, and Bonfire Madigan in “InterMedia”
- Natto, Ghost In the House featuring Waterphone inventor Richard Waters, and Left Coast Improv Group in “Deep Listening and Introspection”
Full scheduling details and performer bios can be found in the online schedule. Tickets are available in advance from Brown Paper Tickets, or for $10.00 at the door.
I’ve been working so hard today I’ve forgotten to eat, and it’s in that spirit of lightheadedness and poor impulse control that I share with you the following San Francisco Bay Area new music scene update.
The Lab’s 25th anniversary performance series is well underway, and in just one night, they’ll run the gamut of styles celebrating their audacious artistic vision. On Thursday, July 2nd, Mills College’s own Chris Brown will curate and perform in a concert featuring Charles Johnson, Chad and Curtis McKinney, Tom Nunn and William Winant.
When Johnson et. al. take the stage, you’ll hear amplified string and percussion instruments tuned in just intonation, combined with analog electronics configured to create difference tones. Chad and Curtis McKinney are twin brothers whose SuperCollider-based computer network music makes a tightly interwoven, visceral and strongly rhythmic combo. Chris Brown will put on his electroacoustic hat, teaming up with instrument inventor Tom Nunn to tangle with legendary percussionist William Winant.
If you can’ t make it this week, never fear, since the series will continue next week with Miya Masaoka and Tomas Phillips on Thursday, July 9th, and a multimedia event the next night with Nao Bustamante, Margaret Tedesco, and Cliff Hengst. Performance artist Bustamante will embody 1940s Dominican movie starlet Maria Montez, using video and the body as a source of backdrop, narrative, and emotion, taking audiences on a journey all over the body and its bejeweled parts.
The Lab is conveniently located at 2948 16th Street, San Francisco, near the 16th and Mission BART station. They’ll let you in for $8.00 at the door. For more information, call (415) 864-8855.
The San Francisco Bay Area has a unique way of celebrating the first day of summer. Our most popular new music event, the Garden of Memory, comes around every summer solstice, and reliably attracts more than 1,000 visitors while creating a parking nightmare for miles in every direction. In 2007 I was forced, like many attendees, to park in the nearby cemetery and accidentally backed over the curb. I left my car there and hurried away apologizing profusely for actually driving over somebody’s grave.
Every year over 30 composers, improvisers, and sound-artists take over the columbarium at the Chapel of the Chimes, located at 4499 Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. The concert takes place on the summer solstice regardless of the day it falls on, and this year it’s Sunday, June 21st, starting at 5:00 p.m. and continuing until 9:00 p.m. or sundown, whichever comes first.
The first time I attended the Garden of Memory concert was also the first year I participated, though I wasn’t on the list of lucky featured performers. In 2003 my friend Christi Denton was assigned a space in the columbarium, as all participating artists are, for her multi-speaker sound installation. Recordings of me playing flute multiphonics, and giving a tarot card reading, were among those she looped for the installation, whose speakers hung above a collection of ferns in one of the columbarium spaces, like the fruit of a robot tree, filling the room with the disembodied voices and music of women.
Few new music events in this or any city are as family-friendly, visually stunning and sonically varied. If you plan to spend your Sunday evening in the Garden of Memory, public transit is recommended. Admission is $15.00 general, $10.00 for students and seniors, and $5.00 for kids under 12 (kids under 5 are free). Tickets are available at the door, or in advance from www.brownpapertickets.com.
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San Francisco is famous for its innovations, its open minds, and its spirit of protest. In 2005, according to Rova Saxophone Quartet member Larry Ochs, “our government was committing all sorts of crimes against humanity in all of our names. I wanted to create some art that flew in the face of those acts – but not overtly political because that’s not what we do.”
Rova dreamed up an international collaborative work in honor of the visionary genius of Buckminster Fuller and his “Spaceship Earth” global perspective. “Good works by people brought together from different countries – if only to point out that it was possible for people to meet for the very first time and in a week of collaboration, create something positive for the spirit, and something that was more than any one of the collaborators could create on his/her own,” Ochs explains. Berlin-based multimedia artist Lillevan, Swedish-born percussionist Kjell Nordeson, Canadian contrabassist Lisle Ellis, cellist and Kronos Quartet alumna Joan Jeanrenaud, and violinist rock star Carla Kihlstedt make up the international dream team that will join Rova in presenting Fissures, Fixtures: for Buckminster Fuller.
The set of pieces combines live music and digital animation in a continuous feedback loop, with the music influencing the creation of the film in real time, and the film images inspiring the music. Improvisation, as Larry Ochs declares, will ensure that the piece transcends the individuals involved and becomes more than the sum of its parts. Rova and friends offer up the piece to honor “someone who over 40 years ago was stating categorically that mankind had to find a way to work together to create a one world-system that benefitted everyone.”
Since both performances will be recorded for future DVD release, this is your chance to immortalize your own applause for contemporary music posterity. The concert happens twice, on May 22 and 23 in Kanbar Hall at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco located at 3200 California Street. Tickets are $24.00 general, $21.00 for JCCSF members, and $16.00 for students. Get them online at www.jccsf.org, and by phone at (415) 292-1233.
We’ve reached the final concert of Interpretations’ twentieth season of provocative programming in New York City! Founded and curated by baritone Thomas Buckner in 1989, Interpretations focuses on the relationship between contemporary composers from both jazz and classical backgrounds and their interpreters, whether the composers themselves or performers who specialize in new music. To celebrate, Jerry Bowles has invited the artists involved in this season’s concerts to blog about their Interpretations experiences. Our last concert is also an anniversary celebration: The String Trio of New York has been going strong for 31 years. Guitarist James Emery and bassist John Lindberg have invited some of the most innovative jazz violinists to work with them: Billy Bang, Regina Carter, Diane Monroe, and Charles Burnham. Since 2001, violinist Rob Thomas has more than ably filled those shoes. While the trio has had many works written for them, and does perform the “classics” of jazz, this concert will feature the music of Emery and Lindberg. John Lindberg explains in his own words, below. We hope to see you at Roulette this Thursday, 23 April and stay tuned for next season.
This particular concert of the String Trio of New York, now 31 years running, is a unique opportunity to present a retrospective of works that have in some ways defined the development of the group, and highlights its diverse repertoire. My three pieces on the program — The Anticipator (1987), Nature,Time, Patience (2001), Journey Platz (2007) represent different side of my mucical personality as a composer, and extremely varied approaches to the collective utilization of the improvising and interprational talents of the trio members, in effect being a voyage through the time/space continnum of the s3ny, while offering up renditions that lie solidly “in the moment” that they are being performed.
Interpretations has been, in my view, the most vital and compelling series for creative music in New York city for some two decades, due to its great breadth of music it presents, and remaining one of he very few ongoing series that offer composers free reign to present their music as they wish it to be presented.
It is with great pleasure I have another opportunity, with this landmark concert for the trio, to perform as part of the Interpretations series.
The String Trio of New York performs at Roulette on Thursday 23 April at 8pm.
For more information:
The String Trio of New York